Overture Overview: #6 on Musical Suggestions

Below is my synopsis of the content of Classis Southwest US’s overture on Musical Suggestions in the provisional agenda for Synod 2012.

Summary: Classis Southwest United States overtures Synod 2012 to refer many suggestions for musical improvement to the Psalter Hymnal Committee.

Key ideas: “The suggestions included in this overture are primarily of a musical nature, with the intent to improve the compositional quality of the hymn tunes in order that the URCNA might publish a songbook that exhibits careful attention to musical detail and displays musical excellence.”

Grounds: Since most of the proposed changes in this report are fairly insignificant, grounds are not provided for each recommendation.  However, at the beginning of the overture, two broad grounds are given: (1) this overture follows the mandate of Synod 2010 in the procedure of suggesting changes for improving the hymnal, and (2) the suggestions contained in the overture are in line with the synodically-approved Principles and Guidelines for Selecting Church Music.

Important elements: The majority of this report is composed of highly specific musical comments (“need double whole note to indicate both SA pitches,” “add extension bars (with possible passing tones) after m. 7 and m. 14,” &c.).  One of the most important sections towards the beginning of the overture deals with musical considerations.  Here, Mrs. Pamela Compton expertly addresses the sticky issues of vocal range and key—often overlooked in new hymn collections, but particularly important to us as musicians.  The overture also includes a list of suggested additions and removals, but it’s hard to see why this list is necessary, given the fact that both Overtures #4 and #5 deal with the very same topic (and, in many cases, the very same hymns).  The overture concludes with a letter from another URCNA musician on the importance of choosing tune keys wisely.

My thoughts: I’m blown away by the scope and depth of Mrs. Compton’s fantastic report.  She is an extremely encouraging example of a URCNA member who realizes the significance of the church’s music.  But I must ask: Why has Synod 2012 been given the immense task of sorting through this lengthy overture and approving or rejecting it?  It’s my understanding that suggestions for improvement were intended to go through the classes directly to the Songbook Committee (see 2010 Acts of Synod, pp. 21-23).  Should synod, a primarily non-musical body, be given the charge of interpreting this highly musical set of comments and corrections?  What benefit is obtained by this apparently extraneous step?  I don’t aim to question the decisions of Classis Southwest US; I’m just honestly puzzled.

See pp. 57-83 of the Provisional Agenda for the entirety of this overture.


4 Responses to “Overture Overview: #6 on Musical Suggestions”

  1. 1 Rev Barnes June 5, 2012 at 9:27 am

    “But I must ask: Why has Synod 2012 been given the immense task of sorting through this lengthy overture and approving or rejecting it? … I don’t aim to question the decisions of Classis Southwest US; I’m just honestly puzzled.”

    In that, my brother, you are joined by folks from across the URC. It should be interesting to hear the explanation of delegates from Classis SW US as to why they felt the need to ignore the process established by Synod London 2010 and followed by every other classis, which process was intended to prevent Synod 2012 from becoming bogged down in matters better handled in committee .

    I really appreciate your insights, by the way. Very helpful synopses.

    • 2 Michael Kearney June 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

      Thanks Rev. Barnes! I’m relieved to hear that I’m not the only one scratching my head about these overtures. Indeed, I hope synod will be able to sort through these matters without too much trouble–whether they simply redirect the overture to the Songbook Committee or find some other solution. My prayers will be with them in that regard.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope to see you in person sometime next week!

      In Christ,

      –Michael Kearney

  2. 3 Pamela June 6, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Thank you for your kind words about my report, Michael. As you say above, I do indeed recognize the importance of the church’s music. I hope my report makes it to the Songbook committee and is helpful to them in their enormous and worthy task.


    • 4 Michael Kearney June 6, 2012 at 9:13 am

      And so do I. In any case, whether they receive your comments formally or informally, I’m sure the Songbook Committee will appreciate your work. Thanks for commenting. 🙂


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